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Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2012 Aug;222(4):593-607. doi: 10.1007/s00213-012-2670-8. Epub 2012 Apr 3.

An early attentional bias to BEGIN-stimuli of the smoking ritual is accompanied with mesocorticolimbic deactivations in smokers.

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  • 1Bender Institute of Neuroimaging, Justus-Liebig-University of Giessen, Otto-Behaghel-Str. 10H, 35394 Giessen, Germany.



Biased processing of drug-associated stimuli is believed to be a crucial feature of addiction. Particularly, an attentional bias seems to contribute to the disorder's maintenance. Recent studies suggest differential effects for stimuli associated with the beginning (BEGIN-smoking-stimuli) or the terminal stage of the smoking ritual (END-smoking-stimuli), with the former but not the later evoking high cue-reactivity.


The current study investigated the neuronal network underlying an attentional bias to BEGIN-smoking-stimuli and END-smoking-stimuli in smokers and tested the hypothesis that the attentional bias is greater for BEGIN-smoking-stimuli.


Sixteen non-deprived smokers and 16 non-smoking controls participated in an fMRI study. Drug pictures (BEGIN-smoking-stimuli, END-smoking-stimuli) and control pictures were overlaid with geometrical figures and presented for 300 ms. Subjects had to identify picture content (identification-task) or figure orientation (distraction-task). The distraction-task was intended to demonstrate attentional bias.


Behavioral data revealed an attentional bias to BEGIN-smoking-stimuli but not to END-smoking-stimuli in both groups. However, only smokers showed mesocorticolimbic deactivations in the distraction-task with BEGIN-smoking-stimuli. Importantly, these deactivations were significantly stronger for BEGIN- than for END-smoking-stimuli and correlated with the attentional bias score.


Several explanations may account for missing group differences in behavioral data. Brain data suggest smokers using regulatory strategies in response to BEGIN-smoking-stimuli to prevent the elicitation of motivational responses interfering with distraction-task performance. These strategies could be reflected in the observed deactivations and might lead to a performance level in smokers that is similar to that of non-smokers.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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